Benghazi Attack Was A Major Intelligence Blow For The U.S.

The attack on the consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others was also a major blow to the CIA’s efforts to track terror groups that have taken up refuge in Libya’s east:

WASHINGTON — The attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans has dealt the Central Intelligence Agency a major setback in its intelligence-gathering efforts at a time of increasing instability in the North African nation.

Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.

“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. “We got our eyes poked out.”

The C.I.A.’s surveillance targets in Benghazi and eastern Libya include Ansar al-Sharia, a militia that some have blamed for the attack, as well as suspected members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Eastern Libya is also being buffeted by strong crosscurrents that intelligence operatives are trying to monitor closely. The killing of Mr. Stevens has ignited public anger against the militias, underscored on Friday when thousands of Libyans took to the streets of Benghazi to demand that the groups be disarmed. The makeup of militias varies widely; some are moderate, while others are ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis.

“The region’s deeply entrenched Salafi community is undergoing significant upheaval, with debate raging between a current that is amenable to political integration and a more militant strand that opposes democracy,” Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who closely follows Libya and visited there recently, wrote in a paper this month, “The Struggle for Security in Eastern Libya.”

American intelligence operatives also assisted State Department contractors and Libyan officials in tracking shoulder-fired missiles taken from the former arsenals of the former Libyan Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces; they aided in efforts to secure Libya’s chemical weapons stockpiles; and they helped train Libya’s new intelligence service, officials said.

Senior American officials acknowledged the intelligence setback, but insisted that information was still being collected using a variety of informants on the ground, systems that intercept electronic communications like cellphone conversations and satellite imagery. “The U.S. isn’t close to being blind in Benghazi and eastern Libya,” said an American official.

Spokesmen for the C.I.A., the State Department and the White House declined to comment on the matter on Sunday.

Given that it seems unlikely that this consulate is going to be reopened any time soon, these are intelligence resources we will be without for an extended period of time, which may have been part of what the attackers were aiming at.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, Quick Takes, Terrorism
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Carson says:

    This attack went on for hours. Was it not possible for the US to get support in there? Was the president monitoring the situation? From what I hear, he doesn’t even attend briefings, he just reads them. Where is our intelligence in these areas? What is the progress of the investigation? When will the criminals be rounded up – including anyone who burned a US flag! What steps have been made to make sure that this is not repeated? Why was there not more of a state of alert – it was the 9/11 anniversary. We are not hearing enough from the president. Congress needs to step in and take action.
    The UN has convened and the president is scheduled to talk this week. Let’s hope it is not more excusing. What will his answer be for the statements made by the Iranian president? Statements that were belligerent toward the US and our allies. I have heard the president has no plans to meet with any leaders from other countries, but he does have time to go on “The View”.

  2. Franklin says:

    @Carson:

    When will the criminals be rounded up – including anyone who burned a US flag!

    I have to assume your post is sarcastic or trolling after this line.

  3. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Franklin: When the flag in question was US property, taken by force from sovereign US territory, then yeah, it’s a crime. I’m assuming he was referring to the US flag that was taken down and replaced with the Al Qaeda flag.

  4. Not Likely says:

    I’m assuming he was referring to the US flag that was taken down and replaced with the Al Qaeda flag.

    including anyone who burned a US flag!

    Probably not.